Shark Blog 2: Sharks in Greece

So … in our previous Blog we touched on a number of myths surrounding sharks as well as revealing that “YES”, indeed, there are sharks in Greece. In fact, a considerable number of shark species reside in the Mediterranean Sea. At least 47 species to be more precise. For many, public misconception would raise a sense of urgency or perhaps alarm at reading this. Nonsense! Just take a few minutes to consider the following:

Greece ranks 11th on the list of countries by length of coastline with over an estimated 15.000 kilometers of coastline. That coastline along with the thousands of Greek islands is a very, very popular holiday destination. The Greek seas are riddled with human beings for a sizeable part of the year. Yet, when is the last time you heard of a shark encounter along the Greek shores? Allow us to enlighten you. Supposedly … there is only ONE “anecdotal tale of a fatal shark attack in the Greek islands, and that was reported nearly a century ago.” [1] In all of the Mediterranean Sea there have only been a total of 31 shark encounters over the last 200 years, “and most of those attacks did not result in fatalities” [2].

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The simple truth is that we are not, at all, even close to being part of the natural diet … of any shark. They do not like us. If they did then they would be having a field day every summer. Or did you think that the pretty much non-existent number of shark encounters in Greece was simply a very, very long spell of good fortune that we have been experiencing all these decades, centuries … millennia? That one of the world’s most highly evolved apex predators has yet to figure out how to seek us out. Guess again.

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And just consider this: we are slow in the water. Like, really, really slow. And clumsy. We would be an easy catch. The average shark can keep up with us with a fin strapped behind its back … figuratively speaking of course. Yet, we are not on their menu. So … let’s stop demonizing them! And instead make an effort to better understand, respect AND protect them. Protection they most certainly need … from us! Despite their integral role in the balance of the ocean’s delicate ecosystems, many species are being fished to extinction.

Back to the Mediterranean. Many sharks in the Mediterranean Sea are virtually never seen and so pose little danger to water users. Yet, the Mediterranean sea is believed to harbor the three most dangerous sharks on the planet:

  • Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias);
  • Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), though its presence has not been confirmed;
  • Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)*; again its presence is suspected but not confirmed [3].

Only these three species have teeth designed for ‘tearing’. The teeth of other shark species are designed for gripping, and so are less likely to cause fatal wounds. The very few annual occurrences around the globe where people are actually bitten (roughly ten a year) almost always amount to ‘test bites’ … sharks satisfying their curiosity. Unfortunately these ‘exploratory’ bites sometimes do enough damage to cause serious bodily injury or even to be fatal.

Know Your Sharks

Other sharks known to reside in the Mediterranean Sea include:

Angelshark (Squatina squatina)
Angular Roughshark (Oxynotus centrina)
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
Bigeye Thresher shark (Alopias superciliosus)
Bignose shark (Carcharhinus altimus)*
Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)*
Bluntnose Sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus)
Blackmouth Catshark (Galeus melastomus)
Blue shark (Prionace glauca)
Cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis)
Copper shark (Carcharhinus brachyurus)*
Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)*
Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
Grey Nurse or Sandtiger shark (Carcharias taurus)
Gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus)
Little Gulper shark (Centrophorus uyato)
Little Sleeper shark (Somniosus rostratus)
Longfin Mako (Isurus paucus)
Longnose Spurdog (Squalus blainvillei)
Kitefin shark (Dalatias licha)
Milk shark (Rhizoprionodon acutus)
Nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris)
Oceanic Whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus)*
Piked Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
Porbeagle (Lamna nasus)
Portuguese Dogfish (Centroscymnus Coelopis)
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)*
Sawback Angelshark (Squatina aculeata)
Scalloped Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)
Schoolshark or Tope (Galeorhinus galeus)
Sharp-Nose Sevengill shark (Heptranchias perlo)
Sharpnose Sixgill shark (Hexanchus nakamurai)
Shortfin Mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)
Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)*
Smalleye Hammerhead (Sphyrna tudes)
Smalltooth Sandtiger (Odontaspis ferox)
Smooth Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena)
Smoothback Angelshark (Squatina oculate)
Smoothhound (Mustelus mustelus)
Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)*
Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus)
Velvet Belly shark (Etmopterus spinax)
Whitefin Hammerhead (Sphyrna couardi)

It is obvious that especially the ‘Requiem sharks’ of the family Carcharhinidae (marked above with *) “are present in quite large numbers in the Mediterranean” [3]. Basking sharks are the largest shark species in the Mediterranean Sea and the second largest in the world. And you know what, they eat plankton, a collection of tiny organisms found in water (or air) that are unable to propel themselves against a current (or wind). So, whilst these gentle giants can reach lengths of 8 meters, they are entirely harmless to us.

In Greece shark sightings are extremely rare. In fact, the vast majority of shark encounters reported in the Mediterranean Sea each year are from occurrences around the shores of France, not Greece. “All sharks are rare in Greece, and those that are seen or caught by fishermen are usually from less-dangerous types - basking sharks, thresher sharks, and dogfish” [1]. These past years sharks have been found or caught around the Greek islands of Milos, Symi, and Crete.

To finish with a Greek ‘note’ it is worth noting that sharks played their role as well in Greek mythology. Here’s three Greek myths involving sharks:

Coral Orange - 10THE MYTH OF LAMIA. “Lamia was the daughter of the sea god Poseidon. She had an affair with the king of the gods, Zeus. When Hera, Zeus’ wife found out about the affair she stole and murdered Lamia’s children, which drove Lamia mad. To help her get revenge, Zeus turned Lamia into a giant shark monster so she could devour the innocent children of others as revenge” [4].

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THE MYTH OF CETUS. “After Andromeda, the princess of Aethiopia’s mother Cassiopeia, was bragging that her daughter was more beautiful than the sea god Poseidon’s daughters. Poseidon decided to take revenge by sending a giant shark/whale monster name Cetus after her. Luckily for Aethiopia, the legendary hero Perseus was able to save the day and kill Cetus” [4].

Coral Orange - 3THE SEA GOD AKHEILOS. “Akheilos is the son of Zeus and Lamia and was a lesser known sea god with a shark head and a fiery fish body. Akheilos was turned into a shark as punishment after boasting that he was more attractive than the god of beauty Aphrodite” [4].

VOTE NOW! YOU CAN HELP SHARKS RIGHT NOW! Citizens and environmental organizations from across Europe have united in an initiative to end the shark fin trade in Europe. 1,000,000 signatures are need by 31 January 2022 to formally propose a legislative amendment. If the required number of signatures is reached within the period, the European Commission is obliged to react. This Citizens’ Initiative follows a formal protocol of the European Union that requires you to submit various bits and pieces of personal data to confirm your status as a European citizen. It is not just a petition. Just remember that a few minutes of your time can help save millions of sharks! Click HERE to cast your vote to Stop Finning!

I can’t stand the thought that we or any would become the generation that destroys 400 million years of evolution. It should not happen. It must not happen. - Peter Benchley (Author of Jaws)

Sources:
[1] Are There Sharks in Greece?
[2] 5 Shark Species Found in the Mediterranean
[3] Types of Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea
[4] Shark Mythology

Images:
Shark photo by TravelCroc
Know Your Sharks by Reddit